We’re All Just Kind of Objectifying Jerks

I think one of the more interesting things that came from doing the annotated bibliography for Swastika Night was coming across “Reading the Archaeology of the Body” by Rainer Mack. If you’ve read the bibliography I put up, you’ll know the article has next to nothing to do with Swastika Night, beyond sharing thematic similarities. That being said, those thematic similarities are very freaking powerful.

Let’s break this down: one of the big themes of Swastika Night is the treatment of women, Hitlerism having reduced one half of humanity to a position more in keeping with breeding stock than with rational, thinking creatures. Effectively, woman in the year of our Lord Hitler 720 is little more than an unfortunately-necessary object for use in the production of more lovely little Aryan boys.

According to Mack, this might actually be more along the lines of “a depressing par for the course” than “holy crap what a terrifying view of the future.”

Speaking primarily about the Venus of Willendorf (that’s her up top) and other related pieces of Upper Paleolithic archaeology, Mack’s article discusses a paradigm of “association of the feminine with objecthood (other) and the masculine with  subjecthood (self)” (Mack 82). While Mack tries to keep this paradigm attached to “Upper Paleolithic culture,” one must keep in mind that Mack’s article begins with a discussion of an 1866 Gustave Courbet painting titled The Origin of the World, which seems to espouse a rather similar paradigm. Heck, Mack himself notes that the language used by John Onians to describe the Venus of Willendorf seems to apply just as well to Courbet’s painting. I’ll drop said language here for posterity:

“For those areas of her body which are shown in all their rounded perfection are precisely those which would be most important in the preliminary phases of love-making, that is the belly, buttocks, thighs, breasts and shoulders, while the lower legs, lower arms, feet and hands are withered to nothing.”

Of course, Mack (and other folks like Onians that he’s discussing) does maintain a focus on the sexual objectification that women are subject to, something that Swastika Night makes it clear that women are far removed from in this Nazi-run future (until a certain blond bombshell hits–geddit? ‘Cause the girl is blonde, and “bombshell” is a term used to describe attractiveness, but also a particularly “mind-blowing” piece of information, and… and… sigh, the joke, it is ruined). However, I think comparing the Venus of Willendorf–and The Origin of the World by extension–to the breeding stock in Swastika Night can still be quite productive. The women in the novel might not be sexualized, but their fertility still exists and is flung in Hitlerdom’s collective face every day. Both the Venus and The Origin of the World focus a lot on the fertile aspects of women, wombs and breasts and all. The men of Swastika Night might no longer view the women as attractive creatures, but the men are certainly very much still fixated on the women as productive, which, according to Mack, is something that men have apparently been obsessing over since the Upper Paleolithic period at the very least.

So, yeah. Objectification. What a wonderful time-honored tradition to have, eh guys?

-Eliot Sherman

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